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Celebrating our Civil Rights

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Published on: Thursday, August 22, 2013

By Brian J. Karem

We are marking the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King – with another march of course.

This weekend it is anticipated close to 150,000 people will commemorate the 1963 march which drew more than 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. King deliver one of the most emotionally moving speeches of the 20th century.

I wonder how much the world has really changed during this half-century?

True, we have our first Black President. Jim Crowe policies are long gone. In many ways Blacks and minorities have a far greater chance of securing their own piece of the American dream in ways their ancestors could scarcely dream.

But prejudice and derision exist – and some would say now more than ever.

The recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case brought the racial divide into focus as nothing has since . . . well the O.J. Simpson murder case – or perhaps the Boston bombing suspect chase and arrest.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – a sure sign all is not well in the land of the free.

In some ways discrimination and prejudice are thriving – and in ways I scarcely thought possible in my callow youth.

I remember the segregated water fountains. Blacks had to drink from porcelain unrefrigerated water fountains in my elementary school and white students got the cold water. It changed a year or so before I went to school, but those water fountains and the explanation I received for their presence remain seared into my early childhood memories.

Color was never an option for debate in a Lebanese family of darker skin living in the heart of a southern city known for mint juleps and The Kentucky Derby.

People were just people. My father, my first football coach, taught me a very valuable lesson about that.

There were a variety of kids of many denominations, faiths and colors playing on his football team. The only thing that mattered with my father was the results. Players were known by their number on their back – not the color of their face.

He didn’t play a kid at running back or quarterback because he was black and was assumed to be fast. He didn’t player a big white kid at lineman because that’s where white kids played.

He subscribed to no clichés in his heart.

It may be a stretch to equate my adolescent football playing experience with very serious racial issues, but I confess I was naïve and a very callow youth.

I didn’t have time to waste worrying about what color your skin was. I wanted to win.

What I learned from my father was color had no place in your life in evaluating the worth of a human being.

I do not see that lesson being taught nor learned today.

Much of the criticism of our President resides solely in the color of his skin, cloaked under the disingenuous criticisms of his policies and discussions of his place of birth.

Richard Donner, the director of the action film “Lethal Weapon” made note of his own, unknown prejudice when he was casting the block buster. Casting director Marion Dougherty suggested to Donner he cast Danny Glover as Roger Murtaugh. Donner replied, “But he’s Black.” To which Dougherty said, “So what?”

It was there Donner said a light went on in his head. Dougherty, like my father, had no color filter in her mind. The only thing that mattered was talent.

As we celebrate the march on Washington which helped to drive the Civil Rights movement, we should strive to push our boundaries further.

It isn’t just about color. It’s all about people

People are people. Color is irrelevant. Sexual orientation is irrelevant. Whatever deity you worship is irrelevant. The only relevant thing is how you treat others – now there’s an idea for a march whose time has truly come.

I believe Dr. King would’ve supported that.

I know my father would. I suspect Marion Douherty would and I certainly do.

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